During a high profile Mafia testimony case in California's Riverside County, a hired killer checks-in a hotel room near the courthouse while his next door depressed neighbor wants to commit suicide due to marital problems.
Dino, the charming and lecherous Las Vegas singer, stops for gas on his way to Hollywood in Climax, Nevada. The oily gas station attendant is Barney Millsap, a would-be lyricist who writes pop songs with Orville Spooner, the local piano teacher. By disabling Dino's car, Barney contrives a scheme to have Dino sing one of their songs on an upcoming TV special. To entertain Dino, Barney contacts the village tart, Polly, employing her to pretend to be Orville's wife, Zelda, for a night. She doesn't like Dino, but does love being Orville's surrogate wife. Dino goes to a bar, where he meets the real Zelda, and they spend the night together while Polly spends it with Orville. Written by
This is a low and deeply cynical comedy even by Billy Wilder's standards. It's about the American Dream and says a man would sell his wife to achieve it. Ray Walston, (brilliantly cast; nobody played sharper or more venal in comedy than he did - remember, he once even played the devil?), is the small-town songwriter who tries to sell some of his songs to a visiting superstar called Dino, (Dean Martin, parodying himself as a womanizing, hard-drinking piece of scum). The way he does it is to pass his wife off as a piece of bait for Martin to sleep with and hopefully take his songs. But being the all-American hypocrite that he is, he can't bring himself to use his real wife so he packs her off to a motel and hires the local floozie Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak) to take her place.
The film is very funny in the way it undermines our conventional sense of morality. It's like a French Farce full of dirty American gags and in some ways is one of Wilder's best (though under-valued) films. The only 'nice' character in the whole picture is Polly and Novak brings to the part the same kind of touching naiveté we associate with Monroe. (It's a very Monroe-like performance). And this is probably the best acting Novak has done outside of "Vertigo" and possibly "Picnic"; (her Polly is like an older, more sullied version of the character she played in "Picnic"). A lot of Americans found this film deeply offensive, (it was a bigger success in Europe), and it was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
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